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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                          37
cap, his nose buried deep in his brown fur collar, was
sitting beside the driver, and behind him were several
machine-gunners in field-grey greatcoats and steel
helmets, sitting on high benches and swaying with
the motion of the car. A larger general-purpose car
brought up the rear, its motor roaring and its treads
clanging. In it, sitting in rows, were about fifteen
Alexei pressed closer to the snow. The vehicles came so
close that the fumes of the exhaust gas beat in his face.
He felt the hair at the nape of his neck rise and his
muscles contracted into tight balls. But the vehicles swept
by, the smell of the fumes was dissipated, and soon the
sound of the engines was barely heard.
When all had become quiet, Alexei got out on to the
road, on which the tracks left by the cars were distinctly
visible, and pursued his way eastward, following these
very tracks. He pushed on in the same measured stretches,
took the same spells of rest and ate as before, after
covering half of the day's route. But now he proceeded
like a forest animal, with the utmost caution. His vigilant
ears caught the slightest rustle, his eyes roamed from side
to side as if he were aware that a big and dangerous beast
was lurking in the vicinity.
An airman, accustomed to fighting in the air, this
was the first time he had seen the enemy on the ground.
Now he was wandering in their tracks, and he laughed
vengefully. They were not having a good time here; they
found no cosiness, no hospitality in the land they had
occupied! Even in this virgin forest, where for three
days he had not seen a single sign of a human being,
their officer was obliged to travel under such a heavy
"Never mind, everything will be all right!" said Alexei
to cheer himself up, and he pushed on, step by step,
trying to forget that the pain in his feet was growing
more and more acute and that he himself was perceptibly
losing strength. His stomach could no longer be deceived
by the piece of young fir bark which he kept on chewing
and swallowing, nor by the bitter birch buds, nor by
the tender and sticky young linden bark that stretched in
the mouth like chewing-gum.